HENLEY HAWKS 28-27 CLIFTON
By Nick Pitson
Saturday was a memorable day at Henley Rugby Club. The Henley Hawks capped an emotionally charged afternoon with a spirited performance and a penalty with the last kick of the game gave them a tremendous victory over league leaders Clifton at Dry Leas.
Considering what the Henley club have been through in the last couple of weeks, it was a fantastic performance from the Hawks to topple the Bristol side, one that Dave Hyde would have been so proud of.
A word too for Clifton RFC. They arrived at Dry Leas as league leaders and were outstanding both on and off the pitch in their understanding of the occasion. They retired their number 5 shirt for the day in memory of Hyde and were the epitome of what rugby is all about. On the pitch, they also showed why they have made an excellent start to the campaign with some good, powerful rugby. They are a credit to their club and to the game.
Before the match, both sides led the minutes applause for Dave Hyde and were joined by the Hawks Vikings XV and their opponents for the day Reading RFC 2nd XV.
With the formalities over, the Hawks took the game to the West Country side right from the start with No8 Alex Bradley leading the charges. An early penalty after just two minutes from full back James Love then gave the Hawks the lead.
Clifton then quickly worked their way into the Henley 22 and came close a couple of times but the Hawks defence held firm.
A Clifton attack then broke down in midfield, which allowed Hawks second row Sam Lunnon to pounce on the loose ball and he scampered half the length of the pitch to score under the posts. Love converted to give the Hawks a 10-0 lead.
Clifton enjoyed the majority of the possession but the Hawks defence was fierce and committed. The Henley forwards were outstanding with Sam Lunnon, Tom Emery and Tom Hall always in the thick of the exchanges and skipper Jake Albon leading from the front.
A penalty from Luke Cozens put Clifton on the board before the Hawks extended their lead. Henley’s Reuben Norville came off his wing to take a smart inside pass, beat four defenders and crossed for a fine try which Love again converted. At 17-3, the Hawks were looking confident.
After twenty minutes or so, Clifton seemed to have weathered the early storm and started to dominate possession and territory. They began to show why they have started the season so strongly and put the Hawks under constant pressure. Eventually, the visitors scored their first try through No8 Niall Gibbons who drove over from close range. Cozens converted and then added a second penalty to reduce the Hawks lead to 17-13 at half time.
Despite the break, Clifton were beginning to find some momentum and took the lead shortly after the restart. With Henley trying to move the ball wide at pace, a loose pass was easily intercepted by Cozens who ran unopposed 40m to score.
The Hawks seemed to lose their way for a short period after this and Ciaran Moore extended the visitors lead with a try which Cozens again converted. At 27-17, it looked as though the visitors had done enough to keep their winning run in tact.
However, to their great credit, the Hawks showed wonderful character and never gave in. They tried to put the visitors under pressure by playing the game in the Clifton half and their efforts eventually paid off. Monty Bradbury looked assured at outside half and George Amphlett was a constant threat in the centre. Forwards Sam Lunnon, Will Bordill and Marcus Lowe continued to be at the heart of everything the Hawks did.
James Love then kept the Hawks in the hunt with a penalty before Norville grabbed his second try. Good work from Alex Bradley from a scrum and a deft pass from Bradbury allowed Norville to score in the corner to set up a grandstand finish.
The Hawks again pushed into the Clifton 22 and came close to scoring a couple of times. The Hawks pack, who kept going until the end, kept up the pressure enough for the referee to award a penalty some 40m out and James Love kept his cool to give the Hawks victory.
The winning kick proved to be the last action of the game and there were ecstatic scenes as the Hawks players celebrated. It also sent the Hawks fans into raptures. The club has been through a lot recently and smiles that had been missing from the club over the last few weeks began to return.
A great win for the Hawks and a fitting tribute to the memory of Dave Hyde.
15 Love, 14 Norville, 13 Panday, 12 Amphlett, 11 Wood, 10 Bradbury, 9 Gilbey, 1 Cook, 2 Emery, 3 Mason, 4 Albon (c), 21 Lunnon , 6 Hall, 7 Bordill, 8 Bradley
Reps: 16 Probyn (for Cook 18min), 17 Hughes ( for Mason 56min), 18 Lowe (for Albon 50min), 19 Crow (for Cookland 60min), 20 Cookland (for Wood 33min)
Photos courtesy of Steve Karpa;